How Intervention Can Help Someone Accept Substance Use Help

Men in detox

Addiction to substances can wreak havoc on someone’s life. Substance abuse can negatively impact several aspects of someone’s life. For example, they can experience destruction in their relationships, finances, professional or academic responsibilities, and mental and physical health and possibly requiring an intervention.

For people in relationships with someone who is struggling with addiction, this can lead to several upsetting feelings. Someone may feel anger, resentment, sadness, fear, desperation, or hopelessness. They may even feel all of these emotions.

Sometimes people wonder how they can make the addicted person in their life recover. The media has popularized the idea of doing an intervention. This is usually shown on TV or in movies when the people in the addicted person’s life sit them down to have a tough-love conversation.

This conversation is held with the intention of getting the person to get help and stop using drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, some addiction specialists say that this doesn’t work [1]. In fact, gentler conversations tend to be more effective [1].

A gentle intervention doesn’t mean that someone can’t have firm boundaries with the addicted person. This can be difficult, but if we really want to act in the best interest of the other person, then following the research may be what’s best. Research is showing that gentle conversations may be the way to go [1].

There may be a few reasons for this. One possible reason is that someone who is dealing with substance abuse may not be aware that they have an issue with drugs or alcohol. If someone is in denial, coming at them with force isn’t likely to really convince them of anything, it may just push them away.

Another reason that approaching an intervention with compassion and curiosity rather than anger and judgment is that if someone feels judged, they are less likely to be open to what is being said to them.

A compassionate conversation doesn’t mean that loved ones can never share truthfully about what they think or how the other person’s actions are affecting them. It’s just important to have these conversations from a place of love and compassion, rather than being judgmental or rejecting [1].

This can be hard because sometimes people get angry when what they really feel is fear. Fear can take over a conversation, and we might hope that if we criticize or point out all the ways the other person is messing up, then it will make them change.

Man needing rest before an interventionOften people come at their loved ones with the desire to make them stop, which is basically a way to try to get control over them [1]. The truth is that it’s impossible to make someone else change or have the motivation to stop using if they don’t want to [1]. This is a painful reality, but it is the truth.

There is a difference for parents of teenagers with addiction issues. In these cases, it is important to get your child professional help. However, it is still important to withhold judgment or criticism from your child when discussing their substance use.

This is why it can be helpful for loved ones to go to their own therapy or support groups [1]. Some support groups that are free and available throughout the country are Codependents Anonymous (CODA) and Al-Anon.

These 12-step groups can help friends and families of addicted people. These groups can help provide emotional and practical support. Sometimes friends and family members have to make difficult decisions about what boundaries they will set with their addicted loved one or whether they want them in their life or not.

As discussed earlier, in an intervention, there are a lot of emotions that are likely to come up for friends and family members going through this process. Support groups with other people who can relate can be helpful in navigating difficult emotions.


[1] Maté, G. (2008). In the realm of hungry ghosts. North Atlantic Books.

About the Author:

Samantha Bothwell PhotoSamantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on March 1, 2021
Reviewed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on March 1, 2021
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About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.